A new film by Ken Loach is usually a cause for much celebration, but Jimmy’s Hall falls somewhat short of his own impeccable standards. Of course, he’s done Ireland before (much more successfully) with The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film so filled with anger that it makes for uncomfortable (though riveting) viewing. With this story, Loach’s longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty, homes in on a much more intimate real life story, set in Co Leitrim in the late 1930’s. Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to his hometown after a ten year exile in New York. Back in the day, he fell foul of the authorities with his ownership of a local dancehall, which was seen by many to be a focus for discord and (God forbid) communism. But he isn’t back home long before the local youth start pestering him to open up the dance hall again, arguing that these are more enlightened times and surely nobody could possibly object.
It doesn’t take long to discover that the times are nothing of the kind. Gralton comes up against his former adversary, Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) an embittered old priest who thinks he sees communists lurking behind every tree and it isn’t long before the dancehall becomes a target of every hardliner in the vicinity. Gralton’s attempts to make the church accept that those who come to his hall are merely looking for entertainment and education, are doomed to failure.
It’s an interesting little story, but there may not have been enough meat here to base an entire film around. All of Loach’s trademark tropes are present and correct – improvised sequences featuring non-professional actors, naturalistic sound and extended crowd scenes, but in this film, the latter only serve to give proceedings a funereal pace and the story rarely generates any real sparks of life. Loach has been quoted as saying that Jimmy’s Hall may be his final movie, but I sincerely hope not. I’d like to see him go out on a stronger note than this.